Tom Melhuish 6 min read

Regulations and Compliance

⚠️ This guide applies to UK-wide regulation. See our Devolved Policy and Regulations guide for home nation rules.

Compliance Checklist: Use our commercial waste compliance checklist to ensure your business is compliant with UK regulations.

✅ Duty of Care: All businesses in the UK have a legal duty of care over their waste management, and we explain everything this entails.

Waste Transfer & Consignment Notes: These are legal proof that your business is complying with its duty of care. You must keep a copy of them for regulators.

Is my business compliant with UK waste regulations?

Source: Right Place, Right Waste

💡 Waste regulation and compliance in the UK is extremely confusing because of Brexit and the UK’s devolved policies, so we have broken down this topic into two separate guides:

  1. UK-wide Regulation and Compliance (this one)
  2. Devolved Policy and Regulations (Waste rules and legislation specifically for England, Wales, Scotland and NI)

Legal definition of Waste

Waste is defined as: Any substance or object which the holder discards, intends to discard, or is required to discard. In practice, this includes stuff that might be capable of repair or reuse but that your business is discarding anyway.

💡 This definition was inherited from the EU’s Waste Directive Framework prior to Brexit and was implemented in the UK via devolved policy and regulations.

Source: DEFRA – Guidance on applying the waste hierarchy (2011)

Duty of Care

Section 34 EPA 1990 Act
Section 34 of the EPA 1990 that is cornerstone to all UK waste regulations.

In the UK, all businesses and organisations have a legal duty of care over the waste they generate.

This legal responsibility was introduced in the groundbreaking Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, and was recently amended by the Environment Act (EA) 2021 to provide more clarity in definitions and expanded responsibilities.

💡 These central government legal changes essentially drive and direct the regulations and policies of each devolved nation.

For argument’s sake, we label the EPA 1990 duty of care as “Established” and EA 2021 “Upcoming”

Established Duty of Care:

✅ Duty of Care: “Any commercial activity”, whether run from home or its own premises, is legally responsible for its waste, and will pay fines or be convicted for jail if found non-compliant.1

✅ Commercial & Household Waste: Waste generated by non-domestic activities cannot be mingled with the domestic waste stream (i.e. business and household waste must be kept separate).1

✅ Licenses: Your business is liable for its waste from when it is produced until it is recovered or disposed of. You must ensure that your waste disposal and collection provider has the relevant licenses to operate and where your waste goes.1

💡 Note: All of our commercial waste quotes are from vetted, fully licensed business waste collection providers, so you won’t need to worry about this!

✅ Paperwork: All businesses must sign and keep a copy of Waste Transfer Notes and Consignment Notes to declare compliance. More details here.1

✅ Fines: In England and Wales, unlimited fines are available for non-compliance, while in Scotland and Northern Ireland the statuary maximum is £5,000.1

Upcoming Changes (Environment Act 2021):

These are up-and-coming additions to the duty of care as per the Environment Act 2021:

✅ Segregation of Recyclables and Food Waste: Recyclable and food waste must remain as segregated waste streams.3,4

✅ Recycling Standardisation: Recycling practices, materials and labelling on packaging must be standardised.3,4

✅ Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): Product manufacturers and producers will be responsible for the end-of-life management of their products.3,4

Electronic Waste Tracking: Introduces a universal electronic waste tracking system to enhance enforcement against electronic waste crime.3,4

Charging Schemes: Empowers regulators by allowing charging schemes to recover the costs of enforcing Duty of Care breaches in non-compliant businesses. (i.e. higher fines for businesses).3,4

💡 While these up-and-coming clarifications and expansions were technically already implemented by the waste hierarchy, the clarified Act reduced any ambiguity, forcing devolved nations to update their regulations and policies.

Sources: 1UK Environmental Protection Act (1990) pdf; 2Right Place, Right Waste 3UK Environment Act 2021 4Sharpe Pritchard


The Waste Hierarchy

The waste hierarchy is the universal guiding principle for waste management that details how businesses should prioritise waste management.

While not explicitly present in any of the UK-wide legislation mentioned earlier, every single UK nation has its own version of the waste hierarchy in its devolved regulations and policies since 2012 (England, Wales and NI) and 2014 (Scotland).1

💡 Using the waste hierarchy in legislation was in fact imported from the EU’s Waste Framework Directive.

Here’s a generic waste hierarchy that ranks waste management strategies by its favourability:

The Waste Hierarchy
The Waste Hierarchy (Source: London School of Economics)

Despite being a relatively loose concept, regulators certainly use the waste hierarchy for enforcement of duty of care non-compliance. It is also used to guide policy and for businesses to design their waste management strategies.

💡 56% of UK companies are not fully compliant with regulations, of which 94% are small businesses, and a quarter simply put all their waste in a single bin (i.e. completely ignoring the waste hierarchy).2

Source: 1UK Gov – Guidance on applying the waste hierarchy; 2Right Place, Right Waste


Waste Transfer and Consignment Notes

Waste Transfer Note
Official Waste transfer note template (Source: UK Gov)

These documents are the legal declaration that your business and the waste recipient are acting in compliance with their respective duty of care according to all waste regulations that apply (local, devolved and UK-wide).

Waste Transfer Notes apply to non-hazardous waste, while Consignment Notes apply to hazardous waste.

Waste Transfer Note

Both the business and the waste collection/disposal provider must fill in and sign the note (or a similar document, like an invoice), retaining a copy for two years. They must be able to present it to enforcement officers upon request.

💡 Season Tickets: For multiple transfers of non-hazardous waste over a year, a ‘season ticket’ or an annual waste transfer note can be used. This requires maintaining a separate schedule listing each waste transfer’s details.

Consignment Note

See our detailed guide on how to fill out a Consignment Note that includes templates from each relevant regulator.

💡 While the requirement of a Waste Transfer Note can be found in the core Environmental Protection Act 1990, the need for hazardous waste Consignment Notes was imported from EU regulations and implemented into devolved regulations.

Source: 1UK GOV guidance – Waste transfer notes

Regulation and Compliance – FAQs

Our business waste experts answer the commonly asked questions on commercial waste compliance and regulations.

What are devolved waste regulations in the UK?

💡 See our comprehensive guide on Devolved Waste Regulations to see how these apply to your business.

The UK is a union comprising four ‘home nations’: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

In recent years, the UK central government has been ‘devolving’ (i.e. giving back) certain powers to these nations, including authority over waste regulation.

This ‘devolution’ allows each nation to create and implement its own waste management policies, tailored to its unique needs.

These ‘devolved waste regulations’ are built on top of UK-wide legislation (i.e. EPA 1990, Environment Act 2021) to ensure a degree of standardisation across the home nations.

Source: UK Gov – Devolution: Factsheet

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